A Study of Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Accidents

PisteHors.com recorded a total of 43 fatalities involving off-piste and backcountry winter sports enthusiasts from the 1st October 2003 to 13th June 2004.  24 of the fatalities were caused by avalanches and 19 from falls. The accidents affected skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, climbers and a walker.

An analysis of off-piste and backcountry accidents for 2003/2004. PDF format, 492kb.

The majority of avalanche fatalities occured at risk levels 3 (considerable) and 4 (high). There was an increase in snowboard and snowshoe fatalities, these were in line with the number of participants but are a worrying trend for the future. There was also an increase in accidents off-piste within ski resorts. Seven of the avalanche victims were not carrying rescue equipment.

The detailed 19 page report discusses the types of dangers faced by winter travellers. It then looks at specific accidents and tries to identify lessons that can be learned and actions for the future.

Using statistical analysis of over 5,000 outings for the previous two ski seasons the report sheds more light on the facts behind the figures.  For example: the number of avalanche fatalities is below norm and 2 less than in 2002/03 despite a longer season. This may be connected to poorer weekend weather keeping people at home.

As identified in the previous year’s report many accidents happen immediately after fresh snowfall, a phenomenon known as ‘powder fever’ by avalanche experts. Accident figures during the main Christmas and Winter holiday periods are higher than would be expected from visitor numbers. Over 90% of avalanches were triggered by the victims themselves and are therefore potentially avoidable.

Despite efforts made by the responsible bodies there is still a lack of knowledge amongst off-piste and backcountry users and shortcomings in information. 30% of visitors to the mountains now come from outside France but avalanche bulletins are published in French only. Efforts could best be targeted over the main holiday periods and focus on points where people gather in resorts.

Posted by on Sunday, 04 July, 2004 at 09:00 AM

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